Steamboat Springs The boys on the Steamboat Springs High School tennis team have had a single goal on their minds since the season began - adding 2007 to the lengthy list of regional champions adorning the team's shirts.
"Ten straight - it's my senior year, and I want it," Steamboat No. 2 singles player Matt Gadbois said before practice Tuesday. "And it's what we want as a team."
Gadbois knows he and the Sailors have a couple of stiff assignments ahead at the upcoming regional tournament, Thursday and Friday in Montrose, if they hope to emerge on top - namely, teams from Montrose and Aspen.
Steamboat narrowly defeated Aspen, 4-3, on Friday and the Skiers are gunning for the Sailors. After Aspen's No. 1 doubles team of Paul Young and Chris Taylor defeated Steamboat's top tandem of Charlie Smith and Alex Gibbs, 6-4, 6-4, Young told the Aspen Times that his team plans to order some "regional champion" T-shirts of their own.
"We're looking to get the teams back that we haven't been able to get," Gibbs said of the Aspen rematch. "We're ready for regionals. It's mostly mental, and we've been working hard to get our games perfect, especially on our serve and return."
Gadbois and Steamboat's No. 3 singles player, Jeff Lambart, said Aspen's home clay-court advantage would be negated by the outdoor hard courts in Montrose.
"If we play our game, stay competitive and focused, we'll be fine," said Steamboat coach Don Toy, who cited the team's rebound after a disappointing Saturday loss to Kent Denver. "I think (the Kent Denver match) was good - it showed them they have to go out and earn this, and I think they understand that now."
The eight Class 4A regional tournaments are designed to qualify the top two players in each event, from each region, to the state championships, Oct. 11 to 13 in Pueblo.
The pressure to perform on the regional stage will fall on a young Steamboat squad. Of the 11 players Steamboat will field, six (the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 doubles teams) are freshmen.
Based on their confidence heading into the tournament, you wouldn't know these Sailors were freshmen unless you asked.
Regionals "is preparation for state - plus it gives you an extra week to really get your strokes down," Steamboat's No. 4 doubles player Vladan Chase said.
Steamboat leaves today to get some practice time on the courts and will know the regional seedings for bracketed play this afternoon.
Steamboat head coach John Aragon is eyeing a Montrose team that Steamboat beat, 7-0, in its first match of the year, but which brings a talented, tough-serving player at No. 1 singles - Sean Gueck - to face Ramsey Bernard, who is undefeated in 4A play. Montrose also has talent in No. 2 singles player Robert Herr, who Gadbois has yet to face.
"The region is solid - we have to compete well as a team, 11 guys going for the same goal," Aragon said.
Aragon said he could care less about the pressure of continuing the championship streak, but knows his athletes have taken it upon themselves to ensure that it will not end in Delta.
"We've got to go down and let our racquets do the talking," Lambart said. "If you think it's won, they'll walk over you because they're out to win it, too."